Talking Movies [Captain America Month]: Captain America: Civil War


First appearing in 1941, Marvel Comics’ star-spangled super soldier, Steve Rogers/Captain America, has become one of Marvel’s most recognisable and celebrated characters not just for his super patriotism but also for being a prominent member and leader of Marvel’s premier super team, the Avengers. Having successfully made the jump to live-action, Cap is now a widely celebrated, mainstream superhero and, since American’s celebrated Independence Day this month, what better way to celebrate this than by spending every Tuesday in July paying tribute to the star-spangled man with a plan himself!


Released: 6 May 2016
Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $250 million
Stars: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Daniel Brühl, and Chadwick Boseman

The Plot:
After saving the world from a near-extinction event, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans) and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson) work alongside a new team of Avengers. However, Wanda Maximoff’s (Olsen) unpredictable powers damage their credibility and spell the end of the team unless they agree to fall under the jurisdiction of the world’s governments. This causes tensions between Steve and the other Avengers, particularly Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.), that are only further exacerbated when Helmut Zemo (Brühl) activates James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier’s (Stan) brainwashing and inspires a conflict within Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

The Background:
Considering that Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Russo and Russo, 2014) was such a massive hit and that, by 2016, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) had basically become an unstoppable franchise juggernaut, a third Captain America movie was never in question. The first film of Phase Three of the MCU was originally revealed under a very different title before it was revealed to be taking inspiration from the controversial storyline of the same name. Pitched as a psychological thriller, Captain America: Civil War quickly became the biggest solo Marvel movie when many returning characters and Avengers signed on to feature. The film saw not only the debut of a new team of Avengers and the introduction of T’Challa/Black Panther (Boseman) but also the long-awaited inclusion of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to the MCU. The directors lobbied hard to include Spider-Man and, after much negotiating, Marvel were able to reach an agreement with Sony Pictures to recast and share the character. Though ostensibly Avengers 2.5, Captain America: Civil War was incredibly successful; it made over $1.150 billion and was the highest-grossing film of 2016. Like its predecessor, the film was almost universally praised; while some criticised the film’s bloated cast and premise, many were impressed with the film’s action and intrigue and the dramatic way it fractured the Avengers to set the stage for the MCU’s biggest film yet.

The Review:
I honestly can’t say that I really had much of a reaction when I found out that the third Captain America movie wouldn’t be tackling the Serpent Society; I only really know the group from the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2010 to 2012) cartoon, where I found them to be annoying and over-used. However, I was a bit concerned when it was revealed that Marvel Studios would be adapting the “Civil War” (Millar, et al, 2006 to 2007) storyline as not only was I not a fan of how out of character everyone (especially Iron Man) acted in that story but the MCU Avengers had just ended Avengers: Age of Ultron (Whedon, 2015) on a high note and, like the downfall of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), it seemed a bit too soon to be tearing these characters apart when they were still so new as a group.

Cap’s efforts to train a new Avengers team are disrupted when his loyalties are divided.

One thing I’ve always found odd about the “Civil War” storyline is the fact that Captain America, the living embodiment of America’s ideals, is the one fighting against the government and Stark, the arrogant industrialist who actively spits in the face of governmental boards, is the one pushing for registration and culpability. Yet, it sends a clear message when the bastion of truth and freedom finds something oppressive about the ruling body and Steve is a proud man who sees the world in old-fashioned shades of black and white and has learned enough about the modern world to become suspicious of those who wield too much political power and who just wants to do the right thing without compromise. The trailers and hype for the film excited me and I was keen to see a Marvel solo movie featuring so many additional costumed characters in supporting roles as I am a big fan of that in my superhero movies after years of them all living in isolated bubbles. Plus, even with the expanded cast, the film remains, at its core, a Captain America story and is completely focused on Cap’s divided loyalties between his Avengers team-mates and his old friend-turned-brainwashed assassin, Bucky. Cap begins the film as the field commander of the newly-formed team of Avengers we first saw at the end of Age of Ultron; as always, he is all business when on the job and determined to teach the younger members of the team, like Wanda Maximoff, how to best scope out potential targets and situations and build a rapport as a team.

Wanda’s unpredictable powers are the catalyst for the film’s events.

The catalyst for the eventual conflict within the Avengers is Wanda; unlike the other members of the Avengers, she’s still very young, inexperienced, and an outsider. Add to that the fact that her “Hex Powers” are both unpredictable and volatile and she is a bit of a powder keg, despite her generally calm and composed demeanour. Deep down, she just wants to help people and do the best she can so, when she instinctively uses her powers to hurl Brock Rumlow/Crossbones (Frank Grillo) into the air to keep his suicide bomb from killing innocents, she is devastated when her throw goes awry and kills several Wakandan humanitarians. Although Steve tries to console her, rightfully pointing out that no-one, however (super)powerful can save everyone, she only really feels a connection with the Vision (Paul Bettany), another being born of an Infinity Stone to whom she has grown very close and who desires to not only explore his abilities and humanity but who also seeks to understand the nature of the Infinity Stone embedded in his forehead.

The Avengers are divided on the Sokovia Accords, which would see them conform or retire.

Cap’s team is also comprised of his friends, Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Mackie) and Black Widow. Now much more comfortable in his role as a superhero, the Falcon has built a camaraderie with the other Avengers and is a vital member of the team thanks to his drone, Redwing, and his specialised flight suit, both of which allow him to provide unprecedented air support. Natasha, meanwhile, continues to be an absolute bad-ass in the field, striking with speed, precision, and power, while also sharing the responsibility of teaching Wanda how to conduct herself out in the field. They, and many of their team mates, live and train at a specialist compound, paid for by Stark’s not-inconsiderable funds. Stark, meanwhile, has semi-retired from the superhero life and is only brought back into the fold after the incident in Lagos which, especially after the devastating events in Sokovia in Age of Ultron, call into question the unchallenged actions of the Avengers. Thus, in a continuation of his growing sense of impending cosmic danger and his desire to protect the planet by any means necessary (and due to his guilt at being responsible for collateral damage caused by the Avengers’ actions), Stark is immediately onboard with the “Sokovia Accords”. Although Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross’s (William Hurt), now promoted to Secretary of State, acknowledges that the world owes the Avengers an unpayable debt, he stresses that they must register to answer to a democratic committee before acting so that they can be properly held accountable for their actions. The Sokovia Accords rattle each member of the team in different ways based on their previous experiences and relationships; James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) and the Vision, for example, look at the numbers and the orders and, influenced by their relationship with Stark, believe that signing the Accords is the only logical action whereas Sam is adamant that it will only be a matter of time before the government screw them over.

Zemo plots to destroy the Avengers from the inside out and is focused only on his vengeance.

Steve, ever the soldier and pragmatist, argues against “[surrendering] their right to choose” and his conviction to take a stand against being controlled, even by the United States government, is galvanised after the death of his former flame, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who firmly believed in standing up for her beliefs. However, when it appears as though Bucky has attacked the ratification of the Accords and killed the peace-affirming Wakandan king, T’Chaka (John Kani), Steve makes it his mission to personally track down his former friend and bring him in before he can be arrested by the authorities. T’Chaka’s son, T’Challa, overwhelmed by grief and bloodlust, dons the ceremonial Vibranium suit of the Black Panther to hunt down and kill Bucky, causing tensions to bubble to boiling point. It is into this tumultuous storm of ideals, emotions, and conflicting beliefs that Zemo enters the fray. A survivor from Sokovia who relentlessly goes on a hunt torturing and murdering Hydra operatives to acquire “Mission report. December 16. 1991”, a document that proves the final spark to ignite the titular civil war within the Avengers. Zemo has acquired the Soviet’s book of codewords and is able, through his charm and false documents, to gain access to Bucky after he is arrested and activate him in order to acquire the information he seeks. Bucky, who has been living off the grid and on the run since the end of The Winter Soldier, continues to suffer from decades of cryogenic stasis, manipulation, brainwashing, and memory wiping, which have made him a confused and purely instinctual creature. Although Steve still remembers their time together as friends and the entirety of Bucky’s past, Bucky is haunted by fragmented memories of his time as an assassin and naturally paranoid, lashing out at friend and foe alike when they try to reach him.

Everyone, especially Black Panther, is after Bucky thanks to Zemo’s machinations.

While Wanda shoulders a lot of the guilt for what happened in Lagos, Steve feels he is also to blame as he was distracted by Rumlow’s mention of Bucky. Still, he is steadfast that what he, and the other Avengers, do cannot be regulated by a governing body, especially after how deeply entrenched Hydra was into S.H.I.E.L.D. This causes a clash of ideals and beliefs between and Stark; showing his partial growth as a character, Stark is now more than willing to compromise and work within the system to keep them in check and also to ensure that the team stays together but Steve is adamant that they shouldn’t have to answer to anyone lest they be stopped from intervening where they are most needed. While the Sokovia Accords themselves probably would have divided the Avengers enough to cause some kind of conflict, they potentially wouldn’t have come to blows if it wasn’t for Zemo’s manipulations and Bucky’s apparent culpability in T’Chaka’s death. When he comes to his senses, Bucky reveals that he was just one of many Winter Soldiers created by the soviets and that Zemo was responsible for the bombing at the ratification. Stark, however, remains oblivious to the deception that has taken place and takes it upon himself to lead his allies in apprehending Bucky, even if it means recruiting the young and relatively untested Spider-Man to help throw Cap off his game and fighting against his allies for the greater good. Steve, realising that he is now, once again, a fugitive, puts together a team of his own to defend Bucky and fight their way to uncovering and exposing Zemo’s plot. To this end, he recruits Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and, on Sam’s suggestion, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) to help him out, and such is the strength of Captain America’s conviction and fortitude that he is able to convince ex-cons like Scott, retired heroes like Clint (both of whom have familial responsibilities), and Agent Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) to put themselves and their careers at risk to help his cause.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Being as it’s basically an Avengers movie in disguise, Captain America: Civil War is a natural escalation of The Winter Soldier in every way. As a result, it’s bigger and far more intricate and bombastic than the previous Captain America movies but, arguably, maybe not the definitive ending to a trilogy of standalone movies in the same way as, say, Iron Man 3 (Black, 2013) tried to be. However, there is a very good reason for this and that is that, at this point, MCU movies were much more about focusing on a singular hero but also expanding their shared world exponentially in the lead-up to their biggest movies ever. Despite its heavy subject matter and action-packed events, the film also has time for absolute tone-perfect comedy; Bucky and Sam’s reaction to Steve’s admittedly awkward kiss with Sharon, Scott’s gushing over meeting Captain America and the other Avengers, and Spider-Man’s incessant quips and references during the big airport fight all brilliantly break the tension and add some pitch-perfect levity to the film.

Tom Holland made an immediate and exhilarating impression as the all-new Spider-Man.

Of course, one of the main selling points of the film is the climatic fight between Team Cap and Team Iron Man and the introduction of Spider-Man to the MCU. As much as I loved Andrew Garfield in the role and still think it would’ve been a lot simpler and easier to simply fold him and the Amazing Spider-Man films (Webb, 2012 to 2014) into the MCU, casting a younger actor as an inexperienced version of the character was a great way to introduce Spider-Man with a clean slate and Tom Holland played the role to perfection. Although enthusiastic about getting a shot to team up with heavy-weights like Iron Man and the Vision and eager to impress both Stark and the Avengers, Spider-Man is in way over his head; still he holds his own and delivers both quips for days and some of the best web-slinging in just one big fight scene even after (at the time) nearly fifteen years of Spider-Man movies. Though young and operating in a homemade suit that allows him to use his powers responsibly, Peter is still portrayed as something of a child prodigy as he manufactures his own webbing and web shooters and, despite not mentioning his beloved Uncle Ben by name, has the same strict moral code as any other iteration of the character, making for perhaps the most well-rounded portrayal even after many decades of Spider-Man adaptations.

The fight between the two teams soon escalates when Rhodey is critically injured.

The clash between Team Cap and Team Iron Man isn’t just about Spider-Man, though, or even Steve and Stark; instead, it’s a reluctant fight between close friends and allies, many of whom use known weaknesses against their team mates in order to gain a bit more ground. While you might think that a guy like Hawkeye is no match for the Vision, his various trick arrows do a decent job of disrupting the synthezoid and burying Iron Man beneath a pile of cars. Similarly, Cap is technically physically outmatched and reluctant to fight against a teenager like Spider-Man but is able to best him using his shield and distracting him with falling debris. Another star of the conflict is Ant-Man who, in addition to enlarging vehicles with Pym Particles, makes an entertaining and amusing debut as Giant-Man, and we even get to see Hawkeye and Black Widow go at it, albeit with an acknowledged reluctance. Even Stark doesn’t actually want to fight; he brings his team to the airport to convince Cap to stand down out of respect for their friendship and for the sake of the team, and specifically orders them to subdue their former allies rather than grievously harm them. However, despite this, and as entertaining as this clash between the two groups of Avengers is, things end up becoming much too real when an errant shot from the Vision ends up crippling Rhodey from the waist down, which only adds further fuel to Stark’s fire.

Cap is forced to defend Bucky from Stark in the finale as the Avengers implode from within.

Both Steve and Stark make compelling arguments for and against signing the Sokovia Accords but, as is to be expected of the storyline and these larger than life characters, take their argument to the extreme. In the source material, this led to Stark hunting down and imprisoning his fellow heroes in the ultimate act of uncompromising betrayal, becoming something of a tyrant in the process. Here, he doesn’t go quite that far until he has absolutely no other choice; despite his grating personality, it’s clear that Stark sees Steve and the others as trusted friends and allies and like Natasha, is more than willing to compromise to keep the team together, in check, and to advocate for amendments to the Accords later down the line. However, both Steve and Stark are pushed too far when the others continuously refuses to see things from their perspective and to compromise their integrity or conscience. After the climatic airport fight, however, and the truth of Zemo’s manipulations is revealed, Stark swallows his pride and heads to Siberia to investigate the other Winter Soldiers. Unfortunately, his conflict with Steve and Bucky is reignited when it is revealed that Bucky was brainwashed into killing Howard and Maria Stark (John Slattery and Hope Davis, respectively) to acquire super soldier serum for the Soviets. Stark’s introduction to the film, and a major sub-plot of his previous appearances, dealt with his unresolved issues with his father and, upon learning that both of his parents were taken from him, he flies into a mindless rage and attacks the two in a fantastically realised and emotional fight scene. Though torn between his friendship with Stark and his loyalty to Bucky, Steve ultimately has no choice but to choose to defend his old friend in order to get him the help he needs and, in the process, Zemo’s master plan succeeds as the Avengers are torn apart and Cap gives up his shield to go on the run with Bucky.

It’s a bittersweet ending as the Avengers are left divided and scattered thanks to Zemo’s efforts.

This finale is the perfect culmination of a film that is packed full of fantastic action sequences and fight scenes; expanding upon the brutal, gritty action of The Winter Soldier, Civil War continues to deliver some hard-hitting action from the likes of Cap and Black Widow, especially. Their fight against Rumlow is a great way to open the film and, following an equally engaging conflict of ideologies and beliefs, the action only escalates as Steve desperately tries to reach Bucky and bring him in independently only to end up fighting against the German police in a cramped stairwell and racing across the rooftops and streets of Berlin. Black Panther joins the battle for this latter sequence in a brilliant introduction to the character that only scratches the surface of his physical capabilities. Unlike other MCU villains who, by this point, showed glimmers of complex personalities and had somewhat multi-faceted personalities but were often just dark mirrors of the titular heroes, Zemo is quite the layered villain. Unlike his comic book counterpart (who, visually, he wouldn’t come to resemble for some time), Zemo isn’t some crazed fascist dictator or maniacal supervillain. Instead, he’s a former Sokovian soldier haunted by the loss of his family in Sokovia due to the Avengers’ actions and who wants to bring them down from the inside out in order to ensure that they never again threaten the safety of innocents. Simultaneously, Zemo has no love for Hydra either and wishes to see both costumed heroes and villains made a thing of the past; he also views his crusade to be a suicide mission as, once he sees Iron Man driven to the point of murderous rage, he considers his mission complete and prepares to kill himself. He is stopped, however, by Black Panther who, having witnessed the Avengers tear themselves apart over grief and rage, chooses to spare his father’s killer and see him brought to true justice. The damage, however, is done; even though the film ends with Cap going to rescue his friends from imprisonment on the Raft and offering an olive branch to Stark, the Avengers are effectively disbanded and wouldn’t come together again until the greatest threat imaginable came knocking.

The Summary:
As brilliant as the last two Captain America films were, Captain America: Civil War was a massive escalation for the character. In many ways, you could make the argument that Marvel Studios could have had the third Cap film focus solely on his hunt for Bucky and made a third Avengers movie for the “Civil War” storyline, but it does a surprisingly good job of balancing its different characters and themes. None of the extra Avengers or the wider conflict between them overshadow Cap’s story or the continuation of his character arc and story with Bucky and, if anything, all of the different conflicts and personalities help to bolster this narrative. At its core, Civil War is a film about secrets, truths, and complex ideologies; both Steve and Stark have valid points for and against superhero registration and Bucky is a tortured soul responsible for an untold number of tragedies and atrocities and yet he wasn’t in full control of himself and was forced into perpetrating those acts and that, as much as their friendship, motivates Steve to protect him to see that he gets help rather than be unjustly imprisoned or killed. Black Panther vows to kill Bucky to avenge his father but chooses to spare Zemo when he learns the truth, showing a fundamental moral compass that helps to define him in his brief screen time. Stark is also driven to avenge his parents when he learns that the Winter Soldier killed them and the result is the complete fracturing of any trust between him and Steve, disassembling the Avengers and, similar to the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. in The Winter Soldier, fundamentally changing the nature of the MCU to ensure the stakes are as dire as possible for when Thanos (Josh Brolin) comes calling. As under-rated a gem as Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011) is and as impressively thrilling as The Winter Soldier is, Civil War edges both out in terms of sheer spectacle and showed that even a solo MCU film could have Avengers-level implications for Marvel’s shared universe.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Were you a fan of Captain America: Civil War? What did you think to the conflict between Steve and Stark and were you on Team Cap or Team Iron Man? Did you enjoy seeing the other Avengers in the film or do you feel like it got a bit too crowded for a Captain America movie? What did you think about Zemo, his character and motivations, and Bucky’s overarching story? Are you a fan of the “Civil War” comic book? Did you enjoy the debut of Black Panther and Spider-Man? What did you think to the decision to tear the Avengers apart at that stage in the larger MCU story? Are there any Captain America stories and villains you would have liked to seen make it to the big screen? How have you been celebrating the Star-Spangled Avenger this month? Whatever you think about Civil War, or Captain America in general, drop a comment down below.

Talking Movies [Captain America Month]: Captain America: The Winter Soldier


First appearing in 1941, Marvel Comics’ star-spangled super soldier, Steve Rogers/Captain America, has become one of Marvel’s most recognisable and celebrated characters not just for his super patriotism but also for being a prominent member and leader of Marvel’s premier super team, the Avengers. Having successfully made the jump to live-action, Cap is now a widely celebrated, mainstream superhero and, since American’s celebrated Independence Day this month, what better way to celebrate this than by spending every Tuesday in July paying tribute to the star-spangled man with a plan himself!


Released: 4 April 2014
Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $170 to 177 million
Stars: Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Samuel L. Jackson, and Robert Redford

The Plot:
Having helped to save the world from an alien invasion, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans) now works alongside Nick Fury (Jackson), director of Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson). Steve’s efforts to acclimatise to the modern world are fraught with doubt concerning a potential conspiracy within S.H.I.E.L.D. and only further exacerbated when he continually runs afoul of a mysterious assassin codenamed the “Winter Soldier”.

The Background:
Honestly, of all of the Phase One films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), I was the least excited for Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011). However, while a little run of the mill in some ways, the film proved to be a massive box office success; like many critics, I was impressed with the film, especially in hindsight without the anticipation of Marvel’s first team-up movie clouding my judgement, and Marvel entered Phase Two with the intention of not only refining everything that worked so well in Phase One but also shaking things up considerably for the MCU and laying the groundwork for bigger stories going forward. In many ways, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was central to this edict; ostensibly inspired by Ed Brubaker’s seminal comic book story, the filmmakers chose to ground the story in the then-present day and craft a spy thriller very much in the style of a 1970s political thriller that would have wide-reaching ramifications across the MCU. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a massive hit; it made nearly $715 million at the box office and was the fifth-highest-grossing film of 2014. Reviews were unanimously positive, with critics praising the character development and suspense and geo-political relevance, and the film is held in high regard as one of the best (if not the best) films of the entire MCU.

The Review:
Two years have passed since Avengers Assemble (Whedon, 2012) and, despite being thrown in the deep end at the end of The First Avenger and during the chaotic events of that film, Steve has largely adjusted to modern life. This is primarily because he has been focusing on S.H.I.E.L.D. missions alongside their counter-terrorism team, Special Tactical Reserve for International Key Emergencies (S.T.R.I.K.E.), led by Brock Rumlow (Grillo), a fact Romanoff chastises him about. Although Steve has been researching the events he missed out on while under ice and has compiled a handy-dandy list of pop culture to catch up on, he maintains that he is “too busy” to think about dating or anything other than the next mission, and yet is growing increasingly perturbed by Fury’s secrecy and the questionable nature of many of his missions.

Steve’s black and white view of things clashes with the morally grey way of the modern world.

Carrying a great deal of loss, survivor’s guilt, and sorrow for the years, friends, and loved ones he has lost, Steve strives to maintain his composure; he is compelled to continue following orders and serving his country out of a sense of duty and to trust S.H.I.E.L.D. since his former flame, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), helped found the organisation. Steve struggles a bit to form new friendships and relationships, though he does take the advice of his colleagues to heart and tries, somewhat awkwardly, to ask out his neighbour, Sharon Carter (VanCamp). His difficulties in this aspect are only exacerbated by Fury’s cagey demeanour and when Sharon turns out to be S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent 13; struck by a series of devastating revelations that turn friend into foe and unable who to trust, The Winter Soldier is as much a film about Steve coming to terms with the grimy and chaotic nature of the modern world as it is about shaking the world of the MCU to its very core.

Thanks to his increased screen time, Fury’s character is fleshed out considerably.

Steve’s more old-school sensibilities and dislike for secrecy causes some friction between him and Fury; Fury, however, remains the consummate spy’s spy and is fully prepared to compartmentalise information from even super soldiers like Steve. Thanks to Fury’s extended screen time, we learn much more about his character, backstory, and motivation than in his previous bit-parts and cameos; Fury’s plan to launch a series of Helicarriers to monitor and eliminate potential threats as part of “Project: Insight” insults and angers Cap, who sees it as oppression rather than freedom. Cap’s discomfort with secrecy, Fury’s motives, and recent events are shown to have some basis when, unable to decrypt the data S.T.R.I.K.E. retrieved from Batroc, Fury requests that Secretary of Internal Security Alexander Pierce (Redford) delays the project until a proper investigation can be undertaken.

Steve and Nat are horrified to discover that Hydra infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. decades ago.

The data is suddenly and violently stolen by a mysterious and aggressive assassin known as the Winter Soldier, who attacks Fury while in transit and then appears to kill the S.H.I.E.L.D. director. When Cap refuses to share the encrypted file with Pierce, he is branded a fugitive and hounded by the very people he once fought alongside and considered allies. With Romanoff’s help, Steve decrypts the data and is led to a S.H.I.E.L.D. bunker where the electronically preserved consciousness of his old foe Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) reveals, to Steve’s horror, that Hydra are not only alive and well but have infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and much of the world’s government, including members of the World Security Council and Senator Stern (Garry Shandling), and that Pierce is planning to use Project: Insight to eliminate potential threats to their power before they can become a problem.

Pierce’s instrument is Bucky, who’s been brainwashed into a ruthless assassin.

Much like previous casting in the MCU, Robert Redford was quite the coup for Marvel Studios and his enigmatic presence lends an authority and credibility to the film that is in stark contrast to the idea that superhero films are just big, dumb action flicks. Pierce’s primary agent is the titular Winter Soldier, a menacing and almost robotic assassin who attacks with precision, efficiency, and has a cybernetic left arm. Superhumanly fast and incredibly strong, the Winter Soldier is easily able to catch and fling back Steve’s shield and unbelievably adept with guns and, especially, knives. Romanoff is familiar with the assassin, having heard of him as something of a bogeyman during her time as a Russian agent, but Steve is absolutely stunned to discover that the assassin is his old friend, James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes (Stan), who survived his seemingly fatal plunge in The First Avenger. Recovered by Hydra agents and subjected to a version of the same super soldier serum that augmented Cap, Bucky was routinely brainwashed into becoming a ruthless assassin; kept in cryogenic stasis and unleashed whenever Hydra required a target to be eliminated, Bucky’s sense of identity is all but lost thanks to decades of mindwipes and manipulation. For the first time since he became the Winter Soldier, Bucky begins to question himself and his mission; intrigued by Steve’s knowledge of him, he is curious to find out more but no less dangerous as his conditioning dictates that the mission must always come first at the expense of all other distractions.

Though surrounded by betrayal, Steve is supported by allies both old and new.

While Steve’s oldest friend may have been turned into a merciless enemy, Cap gains a new ally in United States Air Force pararescueman Sam Wilson (Mackie); though fully trained in advanced aerial combat and utilising a specialised rocket-and-wing pack as the Falcon, Sam is primarily focused on helping veterans to reacclimatise to society after serving overseas. As a result, he forms an immediate friendship with Steve based on their mutual military experience and losses; with few friends and confidantes to talk to, Steve finds a kindred spirit in Sam and he helps Cap to focus on moving on with his life as best as he possibly can. When Pierce brands Cap a traitor and orders all agents (both those loyal to S.H.IE.LD. and those oblivious to Hydra’s infiltration) to hunt him down, Sam is one of the few who stands by Steve and suits up as the Falcon to join him in his desperate assault against the Helicarriers in the film’s finale. Black Widow also gets a great deal more time to shine here than in her previous appearances; ostensibly placed as Cap’s partner in S.T.R.I.K.E. missions, she is a pragmatic, straightforward, and very modern character in contrast to Cap’s more dated sensibilities. Indeed, while he struggles to adjust to the morally grey nature of the modern world, Romanoff has lived in a morally grey area for her entire life and sees (and approaches) situations very differently to Steve. Her secretive nature conflicts with Steve’s more honest ways just as much as Fury’s but, when push comes to shove, she prioritises her friendship and partnership with Steve over all other concerns. Still a kick-ass, impossibly alluring character, Romanoff actively tries to encourage Steve to socialise more and explore his potential in the modern world, seems legitimately heartbroken when Fury is killed, and works alongside Cap to uncover the mystery of the Winter Soldier and the depth to Hydra’s infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an impressively intriguing and complex political thriller masquerading as an action-packed superhero film; for those who say all the MCU films look and feel the same, I would recommend taking another look at The Winter Soldier, which is far more gritty and serious than the average superhero film, to say nothing of its MCU cousins. Filled with as much intrigue as it is action, the film challenges our perception of the MCU by turning friends into foes and making us question the motives of everyone we’ve grown accustomed to by this point. Accordingly, the primary goal of The Winter Soldier is to take everything that has been established about he MCU and tear it down; S.H.I.E.L.D., especially, once this seemingly benevolent governmental arm that provided the Avengers with every resource they could ask for, is shattered into fragments by the reveal that Hydra has infiltrated it since the end of the Second World War.

Hydra’s agents have been posing as trusted allies and are ready to consolidate their power.

At the time (and, if I’m being honest, even now), I somewhat disagreed with stripping S.H.I.E.L.D. away from the Avengers as it felt like we hadn’t really had a chance to really explore what it was all about or see them operate at the peak of their power but it definitely put the MCU on the path towards the fracturing of its premier super-team and the extremely effective unification of every costumed hero against a cosmic threat. Zola reveals that, over the years, Hydra has been destroying individuals and governments (primarily using the Winter Solder) to weaken society and the will of humankind. The culmination of this is an algorithm, developed by Zola, which is capable of identifying those who could become threats to Hydra’s power and eliminating them; this list includes names such as Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Doctor Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and the yet-to-be-introduced Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch).

The Winter Soldiers considerably ups Cap’s fighting scenes and skills.

As much as I enjoyed The First Avenger, its action scenes weren’t really too much to shout about; the film gave a general overview of Cap’s superhuman abilities but he didn’t have too many chances to really show what he was capable of. The Winter Soldier changes all of that; Cap freely dives out of aircraft without a parachute, is fully capable of taking on entire groups or armed (and unarmed) men in both large and confined spaces, and he uses his indestructible Vibranium shield to fantastically brutal effect as an offensive weapon. Cap’s almost single-handed takedown of Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre) and his terrorists is only the top of the iceberg when it comes to how hard-hitting and impressive the film’s action and fight scenes are, with Cap’s extraordinary scuffle with Rumlow and other undercover Hydra agents in the lift and his multiple fist-fights with the titular Winter Soldier being a notable highlight.

The film ends with S.H.I.E.L.D. destroyed and the MCU heading for major changes.

The Winter Soldier culminates in a two-pronged attack against Hydra, which is positioning S.H.I.E.L.D.’s own technology to rain fire upon major American cities. When Fury reveals that he faked his death, he is able to get Black Widow close enough to Pierce to take him out of play and broadcast all of Hydra (and S.HI.E.L.D.’s) secrets to the world to effectively neuter whatever secrets and leverage the organisation may have. At the same time, the Falcon and Cap attack the Helicarriers; while Falcon fights with Rumlow, Cap switches the control chips so that the Helicarriers attack each other rather than their intended targets and, in the process, is forced into a final, brutal fist-fight with the Winter Soldier. As the Helicarrier collapses around them Steve refuses to fight his former best friend and tries to reach him; although he takes a savage beating, his words apparently strike enough of a chord in Bucky for him to rescue Steve from drowning and he disappears, alone and free for the first time in over seventy years. While Easter Eggs and references to the larger and ever-growing MCU are actually far less prominent in The Winter Soldier than in its Phase One counterparts, the film ends with Steve and Sam starting a new mission to track Bucky down, Fury adopting a pretty half-assed new look in a new-S.H.I.E.L.D.-less world, and a tantalising tease for the next big Avengers crossover.

The Summary:
For me, and for many, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is kind of where the MCU “got serious”; the films before it had always dealt with some pretty serious issues but generally approached them or balanced them out with some spectacular action or moments of entertaining levity. Here, though, the focus is definitively on being more of a political spy thriller full of intrigue, mystery, and suspense as much as action. That’s not to say that it’s dull, boring, or too serious for its own good; in fact, The Winter Soldier perfectly balances its action with its gritter aspects in a way that other superhero films can only dream of. The result is easily one of the best MCU, and superhero, films ever made and a vast improvement over the first film…and that’s keeping in mind that I am a big fan of The First Avenger! But The Winter Soldier fully sold me on Cap as a character, fleshing out his morals and motivations and challenging his perception of the world and his allies by turning them all upside down. Better yet, the film introduces one of my favourite MCU characters, the Winter Soldier, who is played to perfection by Sebastian Stan and is a wonderfully realised tortured reflection of the morally just Captain America. The decision to tear S.H.I.E.L.D. down and reveal that Hydra had secretly been operating behind the scenes for decades was a bold one and one that was definitely part of a well-crafted long game for the MCU and it all stated here with this exceptionally well-crafted thriller of a film.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What are your thoughts on Captain America: The Winter Soldier? What did you think about the way the film, and the MCU, handled Cap’s return to the world after being frozen in time? Did you truly believe that Fury had died in the film? What did you think to Bucky’s reintroduction as the Winter Soldier and the debut of the Falcon? Were you a fan of the changes the film made to the MCU and the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Where does this film rank against the other Captain America movies and the larger MCU? How are you celebrating Captain America this month? Whatever your thoughts, drop a comment below and be sure to pop back for more Captain America content throughout July.

Talking Movies: Iron Man 2

Released: 7 May 2010
Director: Jon Favreau
Distributor:
Paramount Pictures
Budget:
$170 to 200 million
Stars:
Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, and Samuel L. Jackson

The Plot:
After publicly outing himself as Iron Man, Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) arrogantly refuses to hand his technology over to the United States government. Suffering from palladium poisoning, Stark is also targeted by Ivan Vanko (Rourke) who, bankrolled by Stark’s rival Justin Hammer (Rockwell), builds his own Arc Reactor to pursue a vendetta against Stark’s family.

The Background:
Although the production of Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) and the casting of troubled actor Robert Downey Jr. was a huge risk for fledgling studio Marvel Studios, it ultimately paid off dividends. Development of sequel began immediately after the first film’s release; actor/director Jon Favreau always envisioned the film as the first in a trilogy and chose to skip over some of the source material’s more fantastical elements and draw inspiration from the iconic “Demon in a Bottle” arc (Michelinie, et al, 1979). A big focus of Iron Man 2 was on setting up the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which caused some friction between Favreau and the film’s producers; compounding matters was the recasting of Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle and the cutting of many of Rourke’s scenes. This came to be reflected in the film’s critical response but, despite this, Iron Man 2 was still incredibly successful and made over $620 million at the box office.

The Review:
Iron Man 2 sees Tony Stark more renowned than ever; his admission to being the superhero Iron Man has made him even more of a beloved celebrity and he relishes in the unparalleled freedom his technology has provided to him. Stark uses his increased celebrity status to help bring more eyes to his Stark Expo, which was originally dreamed up by his father, Howard (John Slattery), as a place for the world’s greatest scientific minds too pool their resources.

Tony’s characteristic bravado masks his debilitating sickness.

Stark, however, faces pressure from the United States government, particularly Senator Stern (Garry Shandling), to hand over his Iron Man technology so that it can be taken out of Stark’s irresponsible hands. Though Stark easily shoots down Stern’s demands and retains the same egotistical arrogance that was such a big part of his public life in Iron Man, it’s immediately clear that this is all an elaborate façade. Not only is Stark still struggling with unresolved issues with his father and living up to Howard’s vast legacy, he’s also being slowly poisoned by the Arc Reactor imbedded in his chest, which is flooding his bloodstream with palladium. Burning through his Arc Reactors faster and faster every day, and running out of options, Stark grows more and more impulsive and reckless; while this starts off rather innocently, with him promoting Virginia “Pepper” Potts (Paltrow) to CEO of Star Industries, he soon makes a very public display of himself when he gets drunk while wearing his armour.

Ivan is adept at Arc Reactor tech and has a personal vendetta against the Stark family.

Stark’s primary physical threat in the film is Ivan Vanko, a variation of the comic book Anton Vanko (who was known as both Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo), a hardened Russian technician whose father, Anton (Yevgeni Lazarev), worked with Stark’s father on the Arc Reactor that powers Stark’s heart and armour. Having watched his father die penniless and forgotten, Ivan vows revenge against Stark for stealing all of the credit to the technology and, in scenes that directly parallel Stark’s forging of his Mark I armour, builds his own Arc Reactor and a limited exoskeleton. While Stark primarily fights using projectiles and Repulsor Rays, Ivan favours Repulsor-charged whips that can cut through steel and concrete. Though shown to be just as ingenious and versatile as Stark when it comes to building armours and weapons, Ivan is so focused on humbling Stark in front of the world and driven to near madness by his vendetta that, initially, he forgoes protecting himself (especially his head) and, while he strikes a very public and aggressive first blow against Stark, his campaign is quickly cut short by Stark’s superior technology.

Hammer is so determined to out-do Stark that he forms an alliance with Ivan.

Ivan finds an ally, however, in Stark’s business rival, Justin Hammer. Hammer, who is constantly one step behind Stark in every way, is another mirror of Stark; he’s just as condescending and self-righteous as Stark and enjoys the limelight as much as his rival but is perfectly willing to take any advantage and underhanded tactic he can to get a leg up on Stark. To this end, he liberates Ivan from imprisonment and puts him to work constructing an army of mechanical drones, with which he hopes to make Iron Man obsolete. However, Ivan has little interest in Hammer’s ambitions or money; as long as he has his beloved cockatoo and the resources to destroy Stark, Ivan is prepared to cause as much death and destruction as he possible can to enact his revenge.

Rhodey has a new face, a shiny suit of armour of his own, and a far bigger role this time around.

As before, Stark isn’t alone in his fights against these enemies; however, James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Cheadle), now promoted to a Lieutenant Colonel, identifies that there is a potential threat in third parties attempting to replicate Stark’s technology and, though he stands by Stark and wishes to officially involve Iron Man in the existing military structure, he is forced to oppose his friend when Stark begins to succumb to both his palladium poisoning and one-too-many cocktails. Personally, the switch to Cheadle was nothing but a benefit from my point of view; he’s far better suited to the role and much more believable as a straight-laced military man while still sharing a fun brotherly chemistry with Stark and he has come to own the role in a way that Terrance Howard could only dream of. While it is a bit odd that Rhodey would deem himself more worthy to wear the armour than Stark, and how adept he is at wearing it despite the fact that it seems like he’s never worn it before, he emerges the victor from their scuffle and commandeers the Mark II armour for himself. Bringing it under the jurisdiction of the American government, and being outfitted with Hammer’s technology, Rhodey takes on the identity of War Machine and is fully prepared to lead Ivan’s automated drones into battle for the good ol’ U. S. of A only to find that he has been outfitted with useless weapons and susceptible to Ivan’s control.

Allies old and new assist Stark as S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to monitor his activities.

Though driven to exasperation by Stark’s continued antics and eccentricities, Pepper takes her role as CEO very seriously and begins to make real headway in turning Stark Industries around. Facing the cold reality that he could die, the budding romance between her and Stark blossoms over the course of the film despite Stark’s eye being caught by Natalie Rushman (Johansson). Initially appearing to be little more than a notary and Pepper’s very capable assistant, Rushman turns out to be Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, sent by Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) director Nick Fury (Jackson) to assess Stark’s for the Avenger Initiative. This leads to some kick-ass fight scenes where Romanoff’s acrobatic versatility is on full display and serves as an alluring introduction to this mysterious character and also ties into the greater MCU by having Fury be so invested in Stark’s suitability.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Like any good sequel worth its time, Iron Man 2 is bigger (and, in many ways, better) than the first film. Without having to spend copious amounts of its runtime establishing Stark’s character and journey towards becoming Iron Man, the film can jump right into the action and picks up about a year after the end of the last movie. While many lamented how much world-building and sequel/spin-off bait was put into the film, I loved it and didn’t feel like the inclusion of Black Widow and Fury or Agent Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) allusions to other superheroic events got in the way of the story at all. If anything, they helped build my anticipation for seeing more from the MCU and the then-upcoming Avengers crossover and I’ve always considered Iron Man 2 to be a far stronger sequel than the third film in the series.

Stark finds the key to his condition by examining his estranged, late-father’s research and blueprints.

As in the last film, Tony’s journey and growth as a character is a central aspect of the film; clearly still haunted by his experiences in the cave and desperate to hide how critical his condition has become, Stark is, seemingly, more reckless and egocentric than ever. However, this is all merely a front to hide his fear at his impending demise and to cover up the insecurities instilled in him by his father’s harsh upbringing. In the end, though, thanks to Fury, Star sees that Howard did have his best interests at heart in his own way. Indeed, thanks to Howard’s designs for the Stark Expo, Stark discovers the key to his survival and is able (quite ridiculously, I’ll admit) to cure himself by creating a “new element”, which ends the threat of palladium poisoning.

Iron Man 2 features some of my favourite armours, with the Silver Centurion being a personal highlight.

In service of outdoing its predecessor as much as possible, Iron Man 2 features a new array of armours and toys for Stark to use; my favourite of these is the Silver Centurion armour, which Stark dons via a suitcase just like in the 1990s cartoon I used to enjoy on a regular basis. While the red and gold armour is very similar to the one from the first film, there are subtle changes and improvements and the special effects are just as good at rendering Iron Man’s actions as before. Add to that an absolutely fantastic adaptation of War Machine, one of my all-time favourite armours from the comics, and Iron Man 2 does a fantastic job of stepping things up a few notches and laying the foundation for the big MCU crossovers that would follow.

Ivan’s conviction, rage, and genius make him a formidable opponent and dark mirror of Stark.

In comparison, Ivan Vanko’s armour is, initially, much more improvised and yet he’s no less capable than his rival. Ivan’s exoskeleton is more than capable of withstanding a head-on car crash and Iron Man’s blasts and his electrified whips are surprisingly effective at damaging Stark’s armour and draining his power. Thanks to Hammer’s resources, Ivan is able to construct a far more menacing and formidable suit of armour for himself for the finale; while this does, admittedly, greatly resemble the finale of the first film, which pitted Stark against a hulking grey counterpart, Ivan stands out just enough thanks to being backed up by Hammer’s drones and still incorporating those same whipping tentacles into the design. Mickey Rourke is an actor who has always been a bit before my time but this film was released right around the time of his big comeback and I have to say he regularly smashed every role he had around this time. His performance here is muted and subdued but threatening; he can say more with a glare and a grunt than many actors can with pages of dialogue and he makes an immediate visual impression with all his tattoos and imposing physique.

Iron Man 2 features a lot more world-building hints and references for the larger MCU.

Hammer, by comparison, is Stark’s business and intellectual opposite and, while Rockwell is no Jeff Bridges and Hammer is visually nothing like his comic book counterpart, Rockwell plays the role of a seedy mirror of Stark to perfection (which is only fitting given that he was considered for the role of Stark in Iron Man). However, Hammer’s ambition to crush and overtake Stark in business and his enthusiasm for Ivan’s genius quickly lead him to getting in over his head and he ends up watching helplessly as his drones are hijacked by Ivan and I am greatly anticipating the character’s eventual return to the wider MCU since he ends the film in jail rather than dead. Speaking of endings, Iron Man 2 concludes with Tony in a much better place, physically and mentally, thanks to having solved his palladium poisoning and officially hooking up with Pepper, but is deemed unfit to be a part of the Avengers due to his many personality defects. Instead, Fury positions Stark as a liaison to help build the team, which is looking in good stead when Coulson leaves to investigate a mysterious hammer in New Mexico.

The Summary:
I often see a lot of people online, especially on my social medias, bad-mouthing Iron Man 2 and, even now, I really don’t understand why; the first film was fantastic, almost lightning in a bottle, but the sequel is a pretty damn decent follow-up. Sure, you can argue that it’s awfully convenient that Fury just dropped the key to Stark’s survival into his lap but I just saw this as world-building and setting the stage for a greater purpose. None of it takes away from Stark’s growth as a character, or his character arc in this film which, we now know, was all part of a much bigger and longer arc of redemption. Facing a different but no less challenging odds and delivering a taste of the extent to Stark’s imagination when it comes to his armours, Iron Man 2 is an intense story of Stark facing the ghosts of his past and setting himself on the path to a greater future while also effectively sowing the seeds for the rest of MCU’s first phase of movies in an entertaining and action-packed spectacle that I feel deserves more credit than it gets.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on Iron Man 2? Do you think it deserves the hate it gets or, like me, were you a fan of how it built upon the themes and action of the first film? What did you think to the sub-plot of Tony being slowly poisoned and the solution to that problem? Did you enjoy the introduction of Black Widow and the hints towards the larger MCU? What did you think to the film’s villains, specifically Rourke and Rockwell’s performances, and Rhodey’s promotion to War Machine? Which of the film’s armours was your favourite and why? What are some of your favourite Iron Man characters or stories? Where does Iron Man rank in your hierarchy of comic book characters? Are you doing anything to commemorate Iron Man’s debut appearance and, if so, what is it? Feel free to drop a comment down below and be sure to check back in next week for the final part of Iron Man Month!